Building firm BIM foundations

Paul McCormack, Innovation Manager for Belfast Metropolitan College, looks at how the industry can leverage digital skills for energy-efficient construction and improved competitiveness...

It is widely accepted that digitalisation is a game-changing strategy that will empower the construction sector to thrive and deliver the expertise for sustainable energy skills. 

Transforming the EU Construction Sector to be greener, consume less energy and to reduce the carbon footprint of the sector will be driven by the growing market for digitalisation and data and by legislated carbon reduction targets. It will be achieved through upskilling the built environment workforce. 

Building information modelling (BIM) is the backbone of the new ‘informed’ way of working triggered and targeted by the digitalisation opportunities presented to the sector.

The construction sector is increasingly struggling with how to gather and utilise data in a co-ordinated fashion across the entire sector supply chain. By upskilling the workforce initially to master the digital fundamentals and then to utilise BIM to gather the data, the sector can then organise, store and extract value from the data. This leads to greener construction and enabling net zero carbon footprints. BIM is simply a repository of energy information of buildings, accessible and usable by all stakeholders in a systemic and coordinated environment.

The challenge for industry is how to engage in the digitalisation journey, where is the next starting point and how do you navigate a journey when you are unsure of the destination?

BIM development routes
BIM is an enabler, and it is a priority for companies to secure a basic grasp of it, In reality, the level of knowledge and use of BIM will differ from one company to another depending on their position on the construction value chain. While large multinational companies will have resources for a dedicated BIM department, SME’s will require this to be an ‘add on’ to someone’s job description. Therefore, the BIM adoption levels and development routes are different for each player and the resources available need to reflect this. Every company will adopt a different BIM approach depending on need and capacity. However, every company will require a basic grounding in BIM fundamentals and then, if necessary, develop individual specialisms. 

Now is the time for companies to develop and implement their specific needs and opportunity-driven digital strategy with BIM at the heart. The starting point for this journey is getting the fundamentals in place.

In 2020, NI headquartered Company, OHMG realised the need to lay down firm BIM foundations upon which to base their digitalisation journey and embarked on a companywide BIM course. Twenty-seven OHMG staff have completed the OCN Level 3 Award in Digital Construction with BIM delivered by Belfast Metropolitan College. This 20-week online course was delivered in a beyond blended online education process with the learners engaging with the process, remotely and at a time that suited them. This digital process enabled and empowered the OHMG workforce to study ‘on site’ at their own pace, time and location thus ensuring that their learning process balanced with work and home life. 

Speaking about the company BIM engagement, Martin Lennon, Managing Director of OHMG Ltd. said, “The company, as with all others in the construction sector, faces the challenge of ensuring their staff are fully skilled in digital tools for construction whilst still delivering the goods on site. The Belfast Met BIM course was a perfect fit for our team and is another step on our digital transformation journey.”

Digitalisation is currently changing the face of the construction industry. It is vital for companies to engage in this transformation in order to avail of the ensuing opportunities. Those who fail to engage will fail – it is that simple. Data is being generated throughout the construction process and presents tremendous value that needs to be captured; those with the capability and capacity to do so will thrive. All companies must develop a mechanism for dealing with the levels of data that they are faced with. In order to engage, companies must get the basics right and then map out their own individual journey; this is essential to take advantage of the opportunities and succeed.

BIM is not just an acronym, it is a system for handling data that allows the user to manage construction. The first step in the Belfast Met BIMcert project is to demystify BIM and let the learner engage. We break the process down into basic steps, introduce the fundamentals as the first step in this process and allow users to design their own learning pathway. It allows companies like OHMG to get their footings set and to build their digital transformation strategy.

Belfast Metropolitan College
Belfast Metropolitan College is a major provider of skills and training support for the built environment. This is achieved in collaboration with a wide network of stakeholders and partners including the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), the public sector and industry.

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